If the rate of change in optometry this year has your head spinning, hold on tight with this next one. On September 18th, Johnson and Johnson Vision announced the acquisition of Sightbox, an online contact lens subscription box service that sells Acuvue contact lenses, and yes, contact lenses from the three other major contact lens manufacturers direct to consumer. It was a move that surprised many ODs, but as we look beyond the surface, this acquisition says so much about the current state of our profession and healthcare as a whole.
Nationally, 18% of contact lens sales are made online, and Peter Menziuso, President of JJV North America, sites that market research performed in considering the acquisition of Sightbox implies not only will that number continue to rise, but that those patients that are online shoppers are loyal to the method, and will not be recaptured back to in-office sales. When doctors rail against Sightbox as taking away their ability to sell contact lenses in office, Menziuso counters that patients using Sightbox were never going to purchase in office anyway. These patients had already made the decision to become online consumers, and the challenge JJV was facing was how to take dedicated online consumers and keep them in innovative contact lens technology. How could JJV still keep this type of patient whole to coming in to an office to see their optometrist and be advised about new, healthier, and better performing contact lens technology when many online vendors are offering contact lens prescription renewal services from their cell phone. Getting the patient in the chair is the challenge that JJV is hoping to address with Sightbox. Online prescription renewal services do just that – renew the prescription the person is already wearing. With JJV focused on bringing new product in both monthly and daily category lenses to the table, it’s in their interest as a company to have patients fit into new products, just like it’s in the interest of all major contact lens manufacturers to continue to promote a marketplace of innovation and new product development, and that’s a major reason why online contact lens services have raised enough attention that now a major vendor wants to get into the game.
How it Works
A patient that signs up for Sightbox would provide their current optometrist’s name or the location they want to be seen in if they don’t have a current doctor. Sightbox then calls the specific provider or the nearest local provider to set up agreement for process: Sightbox will pay the exam and the contact lens evaluation services at your “usual and customary” rate on the day of the exam. The contact lens prescription found at the time of service will be filled by them. Providers can choose to accept this payment method, or decline and then Sightbox will find a new provider for the patient in question.
In talking with Menziuso on this podcast, it was refreshing to hear no false reassurances about how this model will affect your practice. So often we’ve heard purveyors of subscription modalities tout that once the patient is in your chair, you have the ability to convince them to purchase eyewear or other noncovered services. In my experience, Sightbox patients don’t so much as bring a wallet to their exam – everything has been paid for in advance and it is strictly a “no extras” transaction. But Menziuso does charge ODs for establishing a reason to keep that patient loyal to visiting a doctor every year. Sightbox patients are paying a premium versus other online contact lens vendors to have their exam fees covered. The value of the exam is something that we the doctor must establish to keep online patients coming back.
Are we at a place where we are willing to secede that roughly 20% of our contact lens wearing patients will never be whole to our practice? In a world where more and more patients are without vision insurance coverage, online subscription services seem like a win for them to avoid large upfront expenses of exam and contact lens purchases. How will optometry face the challenge and find common ground with disruptors feeding off the volatility of the healthcare marketplace? These are questions for our generation of docs and we have no easy answers. Stay active, aware, and talk with your reps! Let your voices and opinions be heard but be prepared to come to the table with new ideas to meet the new challenges of healthcare in America. Not changing is not possible, but can we move the needle to institute changes in the direction that is best for patient health and the level of eyecare we entered this profession to deliver?
If you have questions or concerns about Sightbox, Menziuso directs ECPs to this website: https://support.sightbox.com/hc/en-us/requests/new to submit a question or comment about the service and your experience seeing patients utilizing the platform.